If you have ever worked the night shift you will know how much it can take its toll on your wellbeing. The most obvious problem is that it can be tiring and disrupt your sleep pattern but there are much more serious health risks too. For example, did you know that night shift workers are at a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes?
Fortunately these health risks can be avoidable if you know how to look after yourself and deal with night shifts effectively. Here are some tips to keep you healthy during those unsociable hours.
Sleep is one of the most important things to get right but that is easier said than done. Staying up all night interrupts your natural sleep cycle so it is important to build up as solid a sleep schedule as you can. Broken sleep helps a little but to really be rested for your next shift you need one long, continuous sleep. Ideally you should sleep as soon as you get home, but this is not always easy to do if you have been outside and perked up slightly.
Try to set up a decent sleeping environment at home by shutting out all natural light and soundproofing your bedroom. You need to remove any risks of being woken up so turn your phone off and make sure anyone you live with is nice enough to keep quiet. If you really can’t manage one, long sleep then it is advisable to nap every chance you get.
Working all night can takes its toll on you physically and mentally so you need to keep your body in good shape. A balanced diet will help you stay to alert at work and sleep well when you get home so stick to food that is easily digestible and to small amounts at regular interval. Proteins are the best thing to eat at night as they will give you more energy and help you make it through your shift, while carbohydrates before bed are a great way to make you sleepy.
Regular exercise will help keep you healthy and improve your sleep pattern. Routine is the key so try to do it at the same time every day. Whatever your chosen exercise may be, a workout before your shift is more suitable, while short bursts of exercise on your breaks can also keep you alert. However it is not advisable just before bed – it may sound like a good idea but it will actually keep you up.
If you are having trouble getting into a decent sleep routine it is far better to just keep trying until you settle into it rather than turn to any kind of medication. It may be tempting to try a sleeping aid but these only provide a quick fix and will actually disrupt your sleep pattern. Only natural sleep will do in this situation, otherwise you will only feel worse. If you really feel the need to use caffeine pills to stay awake, limit them to the start of your shift because you need them out of your system by the end of it. Be warned though, this too is just a quick fix and you will crash afterwards.
Organise Your Shifts
Your control over this will be limited but hopefully you will work with reasonable people who will give you a steady rotation. This is especially important if you do not work every night as it will be harder to fall into a routine but if it is just one night shift a week, having it on the same day at the same times will be far easier to live with. Your weekly routine will be unusual but your monthly routine will be more structured and you should adapt to it fairly quickly.
And if all else fails, why not persuade your employer to let you do the ‘night shift’